Koh Lanta Culture | Koh Lanta People: Sea Gypsies, Muslims and Chinese
Koh Lanta is home to three very distinct cultural groups – the Chao Ley (Sea Gypsies), Thai-Muslim people and the Thai-Chinese. All share the innate Thai warmth that is locally known as 'the Koh Lanta charm'. They have lived together in peace and harmony for hundreds of years in mixed communities around the island.
Koh Lanta Sea Gypsies
The origins of the sea gypsies are somewhat obscure. Although they are scattered around various places along the west coast of Thailand, their language leans more towards the Malay than the Thai, yet they are certainly not Muslims and their religion is a strange animist, superstitious belief. Yet they are the most honest and hard-working lot on the island.
Koh Lanta Muslims
Koh Lanta and the outskirts of Phang Nga Bay are mainly inhabited by Muslim fisherman, more of Malay extract than Thai yet fully integrated into Thai society. They had been converted to Islam from ancient animistic beliefs, adapting the new religion in to their traditional culture. These settlers, many of whom came from Sai Buri and Nakorn Sri Thammarat, referred to themselves as Orang Lon-Ta. Orang is a Malay term meaning \"people\" and, on old Malay maps, the island is named Pulau Lonta. Today the local Thai Muslims on the island practice a moderate version of Islam and their villages dot the many estuarine mangrove swamps.
Koh Lanta Chinese
Chinese merchants arrived on the island more than 100 years ago during the revolution when communist ruler President Mao Cher Tung took power. They fled to trading ports throughout Southeast Asia (including Koh Lanta) from Kwang Tung, Hai Lham Island and Sua Thaw in China. Today they continue on the island today as business owners, agricultural farmers and fishermen.
Last Updated: 24 Jan 2008
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